Fla. WR Taylor visits Ravens

Gator is behind Warrick, but may be No. 2 wide-out

March 24, 2000|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

If Travis Taylor wanted a primer on the vagaries of the NFL draft, the junior wide receiver from the University of Florida need only reflect on the 1999 lottery.

A year ago, Taylor watched teammate Jevon Kearse -- one of the most dominating players in the draft -- slide all the way to the Tennessee Titans with the 16th pick. Kearse then collected a rookie-record 14 1/2 sacks and Pro Bowl coronation for the Titans.

"He was one of the top five athletes in the draft," Taylor said yesterday, "and he went 16. You can't tell where you're going to go, the draft is so tricky."

Taylor doesn't know where he'll wind up in the April 15-16 draft, but at least he's learning who's interested. The Gators' big-play receiver launched the final stage of the marathon draft process yesterday when he visited the Ravens' Owings Mills training facility with offensive tackle Chris McIntosh of Wisconsin.

Taylor will make similar visits to the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets in two weeks, then wait out the countdown.

"The whole process is exciting," he said. "You get to go out and show what you're made of when you're put to the test. It's very interesting."

In a draft filled with promising wide receivers, Taylor offers size (6 feet 1, 200 pounds), polish, soft hands and the ability to make big gains out of short passes.

"He has excellent run-after-the-catch ability," said Phil Savage, the Ravens' director of college scouting. "He has savvy to go inside or stay outside. He's a very well-rounded player.

"He's considered the best receiver out of Florida -- better than Ike Hilliard, better than Reidel Anthony."

Where Taylor falls in the draft is another matter. The first receiver to go will be Florida State's Peter Warrick, his 4.5-second time indoors in the 40-yard dash notwithstanding. After that, it's debatable.

Michigan State's Plaxico Burress, a huge, 6-5, 230-pound target, has generally been regarded as the second receiver in the draft. But 4.5 speed and a tendency to drop passes has some teams wondering -- enough so that Taylor's agent, Steve Weinberg, thinks his client is now No. 2.

"I think Travis has moved ahead of Burress," Weinberg said yesterday from his Dallas office. "He's a polished kid with good size."

The Ravens have two picks in the first round -- the fifth and 15th overall. Barring a pre-draft trade, it's expected they'll go for a running back and receiver with the picks.

Weinberg believes Baltimore's interest in Taylor is sincere.

"What I'm told is, they realize he won't be there at 15," he said. "They'll have to get him at five or trade down. But I'm told the Philadelphia Eagles [picking sixth] like him, too."

Taylor figures to be an impact player in the NFL. When he ran 40-yard times of 4.35 and 4.45 nine days ago in his private workout in Gainesville, Fla., he answered questions about a lingering high-ankle sprain that knocked him out of three games last year. That injury, coupled with the Gators' shuttle system at quarterback, reduced Taylor's production as a junior (13.6 yards per catch) after a spectacular sophomore season (18.3 yards).

He said he wasn't thinking about the millions of dollars he could've made -- or lost -- in that workout.

"I didn't think about it that way," Taylor said. "I said, this is the only workout I have; I've got to go out and make the best of it. After the first 40, I was good to go. All the anxiety and nerves were gone."

The draft suspense, of course, will last a while longer.

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